Late October, Ben Spalding will be starting a 6-month residency at John Salt on Upper Street, Islington. From Tuesday to Saturday evening there will be 25 covers offering a four, six or twelve-serving tasting menu, as well as fun, accessible bar food on offer, and Sunday roasts.
Here, Ben Spalding talks to us about his inspiration and the how the idea of serving ‘chicken on a brick’ came about. Chicken on a brick photos by JP Godwin
When I was at Roganic, I doubted my ability. Simon [Rogan] and I read the reviews, and we spoke about how chuffed we were. There’d be a buzzing dining room of happy people enjoying their meals – but I was still thinking that maybe I should pack it all in and change career because my cooking wasn’t good enough.
Things are a blur when you open a restaurant. You don't have time to think, and I didn’t have time to digest the nice comments. It was only when I left in April that I realised what Simon and I had created. Chefs as far away as Europe and Australia were writing to say they admired my cooking – it was astounding and utterly humbling. Now my focus is on maintaining the standard that people associate me with, constantly learning and refining it.
The John Salt is going to be wild, creative, fun, spontaneous and beautiful to watch. I am done with formal, predictable and tedious cooking.
I pride myself on thinking outside the box and being persistent with ideas which might sound ridiculous at first. Last summer I was having a cigarette outside a pub, using a brick ashtray, and it gave me the idea of serving food off a brick.
The main challenge was making it safe to eat off. I came up with the idea of coating the brick in caramel, leaving it to dry, and then topping it with loose chicken parfait. The warmth of the parfait makes the caramel sweat and release bitter flavours which cuts through the fattiness of the liver.
It’s good to be different. But out-there dishes need to have substance otherwise they can appear very amateur. The ‘chicken on a brick’ dish uses ingredients that a chicken eats like grains and corn, and the parfait is topped with a thin layer of skin for texture. In essence it’s a very simple, logical dish served with a lot of theatre.
International food journalists and bloggers were picking up the bricks and licking them when I trialled the dish. It was hilarious. You know you’re onto something when there’s a table of well-seasoned food lovers round a table licking bricks. This is the feeling associated with eating I really want to get across at John Salt. It’s going to be wild, creative, fun, spontaneous and beautiful to watch. I am done with formal, predictable and tedious cooking.
131 Upper Street,
Ben Spalding at John Salt launches in late October. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for bookings. Open Tuesday-Saturday.
Phone line bookings will open on October 17 - all who have made booking requests by e-mail will be contacted before then.
About the author
‘I sort of fell into the industry after a really rough childhood. I was fifteen years old and spent nearly two years as a kitchen porter for a crazy Spanish chef. She used to shout at me like mad for my whole shift but then at the end of service she would bring me over a dish she had cooked with her heart and soul, with the biggest smile – it was her way of saying sorry. I thought that was such a personal, sweet and genuine thing to do, despite her beasting me all service for being slow and inefficient!’